This ultimate vintage collector's item gives you bragging rights that almost no-one else has

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Saturday June 22, 2013

You might buy a piece of vintage equipment to achieve a vintage sound. Or you might buy it for the simple pleasure of ownership. Enter the Studer D820X *digital* reel-to-reel recorder...

Studer DASH digital tape recorder

As eBay pro audio items go, this is one of the most unusual. It's a Studer D820X digital reel-to-reel tape recorder, and if you're quick you can buy it from here at eBay (link correct as of June 19, 2013), or directly from

What is it?

What the Studer D820X is not is a reel-to-reel analog tape recorder. That would be the Studer A820, and you might indeed want one for its superb vintage analog sound. The D820X is a digital recorder using the DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) format that dates back to 1982.

In its day, multitrack DASH was the thing to have. Both 24-track and 48-track machines were available and, interestingly, you could start a project on a 24-track machine, then transfer the tape to a 48-track machine and add the remaining 24 tracks.

48-track DASH machines were commonly used for mixing. A project recorded on two synchronized 24-track analog machines would be transferred to a single 48-track DASH tape simply because the single digital recorder was much quicker to shuttle backwards and forwards than two synchronized 24-track machines.

But there was also a stereo version of DASH. And, sad to say, it never really caught on.

The idea behind both the stereo and multitrack versions of DASH was that they could be operated in a very similar manner to conventional analog machines, and even offer cut-and-splice editing. Digital editing at that time was horrendously complex involving two machines and an edit controller. Cut and splice editing got around all of that.

Make no mistake, DASH, in its time, was an absolutely brilliant format. It may have had a few quirks, but it allowed digital recording to flourish and prosper.

Why would you want one?

You wouldn't. I'll explain more in my next paragraph. But there is one good reason for wanting a DASH machine - that you already have an archive of DASH tapes that you want to transfer to a more modern format. That is an excellent reason for wanting a DASH machine. I suspect there will be a thousand times more multitrack DASH tapes out there in archives than stereo DASH tapes. But there must be some... Someone's cherished master recordings are in an attic someone, unlistened to because they reside on stereo DASH tapes.

Why wouldn't you want one?

You might like to own an analog stereo or multitrack recorder because you like the analog sound, or you want to add the analog sound to your armory of recording techniques. That's a great reason to have an analog recorder.

But a digital recorder doesn't have a 'digital sound'. The only sound it has comes from its converters, analog-to-digital on recording, and digital-to-analog on playback. Since DASH machines date back some way, you can expect the converters to have something of a sound of their own, more so than today's ultra-accurate converters that capture audio signals with extreme fidelity.

But you don't need to record anything. If I remember DASH correctly, you could monitor through the converters without recording to tape. So you don't need to record anything - you can get the DASH sound without any tape running. And that actually might be a good reason for wanting this machine, although you would get 22 more sets of converters from a 24-track DASH that probably wouldn't cost you any more.

There is another aspect to the sound however, and that is error concealment...

Error concealment

These days we expect our hard disk-based digital recorders to record absolutely without error. Which is not to say that errors don't occur on the disk itself, but they are fully corrected before they come back out again.

Compact disc and digital audio tape formats are a little different. They do employ error correction, but a situation can occur where the errors are too many and too rapid for error correction to work. In this case, the system guesses what the digital values should have been. This is called 'error concealment'. It isn't fully accurate, but it's generally pretty good. Even so, it can contribute to the 'sound' of a CD player, or digital tape recorder.

If you like the sound of the error concealment system in DASH, well you could record on a screwed up tape and pleasure yourself to the max. You should really get yourself checked out by a psychologist though, just to be on the safe side.

By the way, notice in the photos how the splicing block marks out the minimum distance between splices. Try and splice closer than this, and the system's correction and concealment mechanisms will be overstretched and you will either hear glitching, or the audio will be muted.

Curiosity value

What this recorder, the Studer D820X, has in spades is curiosity value. If you have one in your studio it will be a talking point. If you actually use it then people will talk even more.

My conclusion therefore is that if you are an equipment enthusiast, and there's no reason why you shouldn't be, then you might well consider adding this machine to your collection. It will be fun to use in the same way that a vintage car is pleasurable to drive - not entirely practical perhaps, but you enjoy the rattle of the nuts and bolts.

P.S. We have no connection with the seller other than we asked permission to republish the photos.

P.P.S. If you buy it, or have one already, please let us know. We would love to hear how you get on!


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